Fantastic Fossils

Part of the Mythic Creatures exhibition.

Griffin and Unicorn
© AMNH / D. Finnin

Do mythic creatures have bones?

Imagine walking along a bluff in ancient Greece and finding a leg bone several times the size of your own. What would you think? What if you saw a massive, human-like skull, with only a single hole where the eyes should be? Or a skeleton with four legs and a sharp, curved beak? What sort of creatures could these be?

Today, scientists recognize such bones as the remains of long-extinct mammoths, dinosaurs, and other animals. But to many ancient Greeks, these unfamiliar bones were proof of the existence of the giants, cyclopes, and griffins described in the popular stories and travel accounts of the time.